Decorating — on the cheap (Cover story)

Inspired by The Learning Channel’s “Trading Spaces,” (which films on campus this week) PLAY decided to do its own version of the popular renovation show where two sets of neighbors exchange houses for two days. On the show, two sets of homeowners make over a room in each others’ houses to be unveiled at the end of two days — with the help of a $1,000 budget, a designer, a carpenter and an enthusiastic host.

PLAY’s version involved two neighbors (720 and 716 Clark St., respectively), but with our own spin: Each team had only $50 and a student designer. The goal? Execute “Trading Spaces” for the poor college student.

Apartment #1: Goin’ all out

The transformation of 720 Clark St.’s Apt. # 3S starts on a humid Saturday morning. Our student designer, Medill senior Erin Quinn, sees 3S’s living room for the first time at 10 a.m. The white-walled space doesn’t look bad — it just needs a little spicing up.

Tibetan peace flags run around the top of the walls and a blue futon rests between two windows. A tan TV stand partially blocks the entranceway, and across from it sits a black bookcase and tall video stand.

After taking in the space, Quinn quickly comes up with a game plan. The biggest change, she says, will be painting three walls a grayish blue and the fourth wall pink. She’s aiming for “funky, hip, maybe a little girlie, but not so girlie that no one would ever want to live here again.”

Two of 3S’s four roommates, Medill junior Megan Sweas and Weinberg senior Emilie Zanger, will be the team’s mainstay. PLAY editor Carol Scott is here to supervise. After the room assessment we take a trip to Ace Hardware for a gallon of blue and a quart of pink paint (where we are enthralled by the paint mixing process), wall tape and rollers, then we split up. Quinn heads to The Art Store for more creative decorating items. The rest of us tape off the edges of windows, doors, and ceilings so that paint won’t get on parts we want to keep white.

It’s now 1:15 p.m. and time for the serious work to begin. “Wow! That’s really pink,” Quinn says as she pops the lid to the quart of “Statement of Style” pink. Why did she pick this shade again? “I looked at a bunch of color combinations and just with the stuff they had in here I figured they’d like it,” she says. “I think it’ll open up the room and give it a focal point in contrast with the muted blue.”

Outkast’s “The Love Below” plays in the background as Quinn rolls pink onto the back wall. Another 3S roommate, Communication senior Molly Kramer, stops by to see how things are progressing. “I like the pink,” she says. “I’m really excited.” A fourth roommate is in New York for the weekend, prompting Sweas to say they shouldn’t have told her about the changes.

“Then it’d be like ‘While You Where Out,'” she says, referring to another TLC show.

At 2 p.m., we start putting a blue coat on the three remaining walls while taking breaks to work on other decorations. Quinn starts cutting out pictures from Cosmopolitan as Zanger folds leopard-print wrapping paper over canvas panels. Then Quinn paints an acrylic medium on the front of the panels and sticks on illustrations she printed from an online design portfolio. The acrylic acts both as a glue and a glossy finish as it dries.

“I have such a new respect for ‘Trading Spaces,'” Quinn says as she works. What if this was the real show? Who would be the first person we’d have working on the apartment? “Ty, of course!,” Sweas responds, talking about the oh-so-sexy “Trading Spaces” carpenter Ty Pennington.

The blue coat is taking longer than expected and everyone takes turns painting — climbing on the ladder to reach higher spots, using a paintbrush for the corners or use rollers from ground-level.

Eighties music from “Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion” give us a second wind as the walls are completely covered.

It’s now a little after 4 p.m. and there are four beautifully painted walls before us — three that are dark cadet blue and one that is either “Barbie Pink” or “One degree away from Pepto-Bismol,” according to Quinn. And the contrast works. All pink walls would have been headache-inducing and all blue might have weighed down the space.

But we’re not done yet. The homemade wall decorations are finished, including one very important piece. Zanger has a cherished glossy headshot of Brad Pitt in “A River Runs Through It” that Quinn mounts on leopard-print paper and frames.

Paint trays are cleaned up and the furniture uncovered. The TV stand that had been blocking the doorway is switched with the two bookcases — it’s 5 p.m.

Green candles go on top of the radiator board next to a menorah. A bowl full of multi-colored marbles are placed on a coffee table in the middle of the room. There haven’t been drastic changes to the furnishings, but small touches and some rearranging plus the newly painted walls have transformed the living room.

The verdict? “I definitely see people coming here more to hang out,” Zanger says. “Our ‘Sex and the City’ Sundays would have loved this.”

“It livens the apartment,” Sweas says. “It’s so cool, I don’t think I’ll be able to study in there anymore.”

Apartment #2: Simple changes

If all NU dorm rooms included mural-covered walls, glass chandeliers and plush rugs to accompany the standard desk, dresser and extra-long bed, NU students wouldn’t have much work to do in terms of decorating their living spaces. However, with the strict rules of campus housing (and many apartments in the area), along with the limitations of a college budget and hectic class schedule, many are accustomed to spending the school year surrounded by off-white walls and sparse amounts of furniture.

While Apartment #1 went all out, Eric Spindler, a Weinberg senior, allowed PLAY to redecorate his room at 716 Clark St. — in a minimalistic way. Not permitted to paint the walls or tack anything up that might damage them, the PLAY team showed Spindler how small changes can affect the overall feel of a dreary living space.

Spindler leaves his dorm room in the hands of the PLAY design team at 8:40 a.m., saying that designing his room hasn’t been a priority for him because of time. “I never really got the time to settle in,” he says.

The designer, Weinberg junior Liz McAleese, surveys the space at 9:00 a.m. The white walls are bare except for an NU banner that hangs above the unmade bed. Two overstuffed bookshelves, a cluttered dresser, a desk and an extra table complete the room. “Maybe the first step can be making his bed,” McAleese says.

One of the best ways to redecorate a small room is to get rid of clutter. “Piles of stuff make his room look cluttered and messy,” McAleese says. “We need to buy him some storage units.”

Making things accessible and practical for Spindler means taking the winter hats off the wall and replacing them with summer caps.

At 9:50 a.m., McAleese finds a stack of postcards on Spindler’s desk and decides to tape them to the wall. These become automatic wall decorations, without damaging the wall.

We’re off to Target at 9:55 a.m. to pick up a few items for the room. “Target is a great place to go if you don’t have a ton of money,” McAleese says. The shopping list includes a decorative floor rug, a desk lamp and a storage unit; we find this all for less than $35.

Back at the apartment at 10:53 a.m., we are eager to add the new items to Spindler’s room. The effects of the rug are immediate. “Especially if you can’t put anything on the wall, a rug really brightens up the room,” McAleese says. Finally, the papers piled in the corner are organized and placed in the plastic storage container. The room is complete, and it only took two hours!

Spindler arrives home at 6:00 p.m. and sees his new room. “They made some good, practical changes,” he says. “Though I haven’t been able to try out my new lamp because I don’t have any light bulbs.”

Hey Spindler, we can only do so much…